Olympus hasn’t produced a camera in eight years, since the E-P5 in 2013, so why the long wait for this, the E-P7? Well, Olympus sold its camera division to OM Digital Solutions, which completed the transaction in early 2021, despite declining camera sales and a reorganization of the original firm.

The thing is, just though sales were down doesn’t mean the cameras were subpar. Indeed, we’ve been shooting the majority of Pocket-review lint’s photographs on an Olympus Pen F for the past five years. So the arrival of the E-P7 now is sort of a perfect fit.

Sure, the ‘real camera’ market isn’t what it once was – demand is down, but the quality isn’t – so how does the E-P7 stack up if you’re looking for a tiny, retro-styled, and competent mirrorless system camera? We’ve been living with one for a few weeks to figure it out.

Design

  • Dimensions: 118.3mm (W) x 68.5mm (H) x 38.1mm (D) / Weight: 337g
  • 3-inch LCD, 1037k-dot, tilt-angle (90° horizontal, 180° vertical)
  • Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds (MFT)
  • Finish: Silver or White options only
  • Built-in pop-up flash
  • Hotshoe accessory
  • USB-C recharging

The E-P7 isn’t available in black, which is unusual for a camera these days. It is only available in silver (as seen) or white, making it stand out from the crowd and complementing the retro design. Much of the front is already coated in a rough black gripping substance, so it’s not an unusual aesthetic, and we like it.

With the supplied pancake lens (14-42mm), it’s also a compact camera by mirrorless standards. That specific lens does extend electronically when the camera is turned on, and its zoom is also electrically barrel regulated, to make it slightly larger, but when stowed it’s very neat.

As a Micro Four Thirds camera, any MFT lens is compatible, and we’ve been using the much larger 12-35mm with the camera because it has a much better close-focus distance and wider aperture (f/2.8 at wide-angle) than the relatively limited 14-42mm, which has an f/3.5 aperture at the widest and drops to f/5.6 at the longest zoom point. That just restricts the amount of light that can enter the camera to generate an exposure, which isn’t ideal in low-light situations, for example.

Fortunately, there are a plethora of MFT lenses on the market, and likely plenty on the used market as well, so you’ll never be short of expansion possibilities – if you see this as that kind of camera. Many people, we expect, will prefer to continue with small-scale and pancake lenses to make things easy. But the choice is yours: go simple or go sophisticated with a slew of lenses.

The E-3-inch P7’s diagonal screen is tilt-angle mounted, which means it can be pulled upwards into a horizontal position, or pushed downwards so it’s a full 180-degrees and facing forward – although it hangs ‘neath’ the camera in this position, making it a little awkward for selfies and the like. It’s useful to have a tiltable screen, but we’d like a complete vari-angle option, mostly because – as with the Pen F – the screen can be stowed in on itself to avoid scratches (something that E-P7 lacks entirely).

There are a lot of dials and controls on the layout. On top, there’s a mode dial, an on/off click switch, and two thumb dials for quickly adjusting settings like aperture and shutter speed. There’s also a one-button record button and a quick-access menu button (a duplication of the one in the d-pad on the rear, which seems unnecessary really). There are direct buttons on the back for ISO, focus point, flash, burst mode, exposure lock, main menu, info, play, and pause. It’s a jumbled-up array of buttons.

The thing is, Olympus has always had this busy set of buttons, so if you’re a regular user, it’s quite familiar. If you aren’t, it’s surely busy. The menu access is also classic Olympus: deep to the point of being busy. But, at the very least, you can manage the nuances of many settings; you may just have to dig around a little.

Performance

  • 121 point contrast-detection autofocus system
  • AF Modes: All / Group (9 areas) / Single
  • -2EV to 20EV focus sensitivity
  • 5-axis image stabilisation
  • 8.7fps burst max

The E-P7 performs admirably in terms of performance, but it falls short of the best-of-the-best in 2021. So it all depends on what you intend to capture with this camera.

For example, the autofocus system has 121 points, with each area individually selectable if desired, or auto/group selectable in single or continuous focus. It’s adequate and somewhat fast, but it’s no match for, say, Sony’s ultra-rapid current system, nor does it -2EV low-light focus come near to the current Nikon or Canon best (which is now somewhere around -7EV, in the ballpark of moonlight).

The E-P7 includes Olympus’ 5-axis image stabilization technology, which, like the previous Pen F, is meant to compensate for pitch, yaw, roll, and vertical/horizontal shift. When it’s turned on, you can actually hear it “fizz” into motion, which lets you know it’s working. It’s ideal for up to 5-stops of exposure compensation, which you can definitely ‘feel’, especially in video mode or while shooting in low-light settings and looking for that sharp snap. (However, this approach cannot be used in conjunction with lens-based stabilization.)

Image Clarity

  • 20.3-megapixel Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor
  • TruePic VIII image processing engine
  • Sensitivity: ISO 200 – 25,600
  • 4K video capture max
  • 31 Art Filters

The E-20.3-megapixel P7’s sensor doesn’t go wild as so many modern rivals do; it’s really a very conservative resolution by 2021 standards – but it has its own advantages because each sensor diode (‘pixel’) is larger, which improves overall image quality.

However, OM Digital Solutions has not significantly advanced Olympus’ prowess in the last five years, as this level of quality can be obtained from the also-20MP Pen F.

But it isn’t to suggest it doesn’t perform admirably. Get the correct lens on the front – which, as previously stated, isn’t the 14-42mm kit lens – and the E-photos P7’s deliver detailed results. Sensitivity begins at ISO 200 – there is still no ISO 100 setting – and the pictures are sharp and clear. Sure, there’s some grain present if you view photographs closely, but it’s not a problem.

The higher ISO results are also quite acceptable. We often capped at ISO 1600, because beyond this, the apparent grain becomes more pronounced, especially at ISO 6400 and higher – despite the fact that color noise is largely absent, even in raw files.

The abundance of in-camera settings available helps set Olympus apart from its competitors. There are 31 Art Filters to choose from, which you can ignore or use to your heart’s content, and a Color/Mono switch at the front of the camera to instantly transition to black and white. This appears to be the Olympus approach: to be more playful, to focus more on going deep in camera and setting up filters and profiles exactly how you want them to look.

Pros

  • Standout retro design
  • Small-scale build
  • Fun color/art filter dial control
  • Great built-in 5-axis image stabilization
  • Versatile Micro Four Thirds lens mount
Cons

  • Complex menus
  • Can’t stow screen for protection
  • Less resolution and focus speed than best of competition
  • So-so battery life
  • Not a technological leap forward

Conclusion

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a new Olympus camera, so is the E-P7 worth the wait? It all depends on what you’re searching for in a camera.

If you were hoping for something new and unique, the E-P7 isn’t all that different from the Pen F, albeit without the viewfinder. The image quality remains mostly unchanged – that is, it is good, but it will not compete with the current higher-resolution competitors. Much the same can be said about its performance – the autofocus is adequate but not up to par with, say, Sony’s current finest.

Having said that, the design of the E-P7 is daring and unique. It has a particular throwback appearance that, with the exception of Fujifilm, you won’t find anywhere else. It’s also tiny in size, the price doesn’t approach the four-figure mark like so many competitors, and the range of Micro Four Thirds lenses available offers it plenty of room to grow.

While the camera market may be in decline, the Olympus E-P7 provides a welcome boost to the corners of our lips. It’s a nice-looking and capable tiny camera that, following Olympus’ sale of its camera division to OM Digital Solutions, establishes that the new owners’ attitude is very similar to the old.